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Your monthly critical round-up of performances, recordings and publications


New York

Kian Soltani (right) and Aaron Pilsan delight the audience




It’s not often that an encore almost steals the show. But after a juicy programme at Weill Recital Hall, Kian Soltani and Aaron Pilsan unleashed New York Honk (1987) by the Swiss cellist and composer homas Demenga. In slightly over two minutes, Demenga combines a cartoonish, rapid-ire piano line, over which the cello replicates an array of honking cars, squealing buses, and impatient delivery trucks. With hairpin accuracy and timing, Soltani and Pilsan delighted the sold-out audience.

Just prior, the duo had completed Shostakovich’s volatile Cello Sonata in D minor op.40, with the cellist relying on memory, and the pianist with an increasingly ubiquitous iPad. From the irst movement’s ghostly closing pizzicatos, to the vertiginous waltz and achingly sorrowful slow movement, to the inal explosive detonations, Soltani’s tone conquered all (he plays a Milanese Grancino instrument from 1680). At the end, the audience shouts were a natural reaction to the relentless intensity.

For the inale, Piazzolla’s Le grand tango (played by Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang scarcely a week earlier, reviewed July 2019) conjured up the dim recesses of a Buenos Aires nightclub. Soltani was especially efective in the blistering glissandos and deployed bow pressure to create a gravelly haze.

To open the evening, Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro op.70 was adroitly phrased, with the latter portion festive but not out of control. And even though Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A major op.69 rewards struggle, neither artist showed any signs of strain. Whether thumping pizzicatos, surprising dynamic shifts, or a whif of impishness, the chain of surprises yielded maximum drama.



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Mozart’s third ‘Prussian’ Quartet no.23 in F major K590 ofered a lively start to the Escher Quartet’s programme at Alice Tully Hall, with thoughtful colour changes that mirrored the harmonic shifts. Although the overall character of the Allegro moderato was good, the feel was a little too fast – almost tripping out of control in moments (the movement is only marked moderato after all). he third movement showed of a beautiful partnership between the two violins, and sparkling spiccato in the inner voices. he inal Allegro boasted elegant playing that never sounded thin, and impressive clarity in the softest dynamics.

The Escher took one of Charles Ives’s most dense and complex pieces of music (String Quartet no.2) and gave a comprehensible, accessible and absolutely compelling performance. he musicians’ sheer commitment to the work was memorable. he irst violin cadenzas in the Arguments movement were utterly lovely – elegant but not sappy – and the movement was brilliantly played overall. he opening to the inal movement was gorgeous and the Eschers again perfectly captured the humanity of the music. But after such a dense work, a little more ritardando to prepare the end would be appropriate.

Beethoven’s op.131 followed the interval with a poignant opening and ethereal transition to the second movement. he playful tempo changes gave the molto vivace a quirky and light-hearted feel. he violin duo variation in the Andante was very special; their colours and timing created a beautiful sense of line and the movement highlighted the quartet’s pristine ensemble – their approaches to vibrato, bow use, sound, and phrase direction were all very well matched. he Quartet demonstrated committed, sincere playing throughout, with a passionate but sophisticated interpretation of each work.





In an evening of 20th- and 21st-century works by American composers, under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Cho- Liang Lin (above right) and Jon Kimura Parker brought talent and imagination to a programme titled ‘he Art of the Recital’ (a parallel recording of the menu is in the works).

Broadcast live online from the intimate environment of the Rose Studio, the duo began with John Harbison’s Sonata no.1 for Violin and Piano (2011), starting with rough and forceful double stops. he ive movements range from a riotous rondo that charges like a bull, to the inal ‘Poscritto: Misterioso’ that ends on a quietly chaste note.

Steven Stucky’s Violin Sonata (2013) opens with an ascending melody and short bow strokes – just shy of spiccato – leading to a moody central movement. he ticklish inale, with Parker easily handling the piano barrages, also showed Lin’s ability to navigate the thorniest thickets.

For the inale, Paul Schoenield’s Sonata for violin and piano (2008–9) made an entertaining choice. he irst movement is packed with references to Beethoven, Liszt, Schoenberg, Webern, and American popular songs, which sped by in a dizzying blur. Two middle sections are calmer, even gently nostalgic, before the inal ‘Freilach’ (Yiddish for ‘happy’) muscles in with klezmer run amok.

In between came Bernstein’s Canon for Aaron (1970), a valentine to Copland, and Lukas Foss’s ‘Composer’s Holiday’ from hree American Pieces (1944) – with Lin channelling his country iddler side in the latter. he Larghetto from Dvořák’s Sonatina op.100 made a touching encore.

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About The Strad

Double bassist Leon Bosch discusses his career, and we investigate the bass makers of Manchester. There’s an interview with early music pioneer Eduard Melkus and cellist Johannes Moser gives a Mendelssohn Masterclass. Plus Leonidas Kavakos’s teaching tips